Almost all of us have had our fair share of acne, whether yours was a short bout or maybe its been something that you’ve suffered with for years. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 85 percent of people aged between 12 and 24 have experienced acne at least once in their lives, and adult acne is just as common as teenage acne.
As there is no miracle cure-all treatment for acne, much to our despair, the battle to keep it at bay is no light feat and can cause physical and psychological scarring. However, there are a lot of good practices you can approach to ease acne flare ups: from skincare to lifestyle and diet changes.
What causes acne?
It's hard to explicitly categorise what causes acne, as different people will get flare ups for variety of different reasons. However, the main causes are believed to be associated with hormonal imbalances and menstruation, which is why teenagers will often experience a bout of acne as those are the years when oestrogen and progesterone levels are constantly shifting. These hormonal shifts can still occur throughout adulthood (unfortunately), so if you're getting pimples on your chin or your jaw, especially during menstruation, you can be sure to link the two.
Emotional stress is another big factor that can be held responsible for causing unwelcome acne flare ups; a stressful period in your life can be the direct catalyst to getting more spots if you are prone to breaking out. According to Acne.org, this is because stress causes an inflammatory response in the body, which leads to broken pores become red and filled with puss. (If you've ever experienced those painful spots or cysts, they're the nasty pimples that are most likely caused by stress.) It is very difficult to 'de-stress' (despite doctor's advisement to 'take more baths' and 'have a cry') however, taking a positive approach to life and perhaps beginning to practice in meditation and yoga are generally believed to help.
Diet can also negatively affect the skin's complexion. Many studies have linked bad skin and acne breakouts to a Western diet, which is typically full of dairy, white carbs and refined sugars. Eating a diet that is completely opposite to this, ie colourful, fresh, raw fruits and vegetables, will ease acne flare ups.
Where you get spots on your face and body is indicative of your body's inner health and can signal intolerances you might not know you had. It has been suggested that people who suffer from hormonal acne and get breakouts during menstruation should lay off dairy, as adding more hormones into their body will only aggrivate the skin.
How to get rid of acne
When it comes to tackling acne, skincare is the first place to start; if you want to achieve clear skin it is imperative you have a good skincare routine. If you remember one rule it’s this: keep your skin clean. When you’re out and about all day, picking up germs from public transport, toilets and even your work desk, expect to create a breeding ground for germs if you then touch your face which could mean an abundance of pimples. So, don’t ever touch your face.
In terms of washing your face and cleaning away all of the day’s makeup and pollution build up, acne-prone skin will benefit most from a skincare regime that is regular, won’t cause too much irritation, and most importantly will give the skin the most thorough clean ever.
Acne ingredients to look out for and what they do
There are certain ingredients that can help to clear acne and prevent future breakouts, which can be found in some skincare products. Scary-sounding, yes, but these are the agents you should look out for when shopping for a new face wash. (Note: everyone reacts differently to harsher chemical ingredients, and these in particular are likely to irritate the skin in the first use or two before it becomes accustomed to them.)
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as salicylic acid, lactic acid, and glycolic acid are used in products to treat acne. They work by drying up pimples, blackheads and whiteheads and causing the top layer of skin to peel off. Products containing AHAs may cause a mild tingling or discomfort to the skin, and cause it to become super sensitive to UV rays, so it is advisable mostly overnight or worn with SPF.
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid and is widely acknowledged as being an ingredient that is great for tackling acne. It is considered a keratolytic medication which means it exfoliates inside the hair follicle to unclog the pores, and as its related to aspirin, which has anti-inflammatory properties, it calms redness and can decrease inflammation.
Salicylic acid is extremely accessible and can be found in numerous face washes, but is not the best ingredient to use if you have really dry skin as it will dry out your skin further.
Benzoyl peroxide is a powerful, non-toxic, oxidizing agent which is used to tackle whiteheads, blackheads and larger lesions. It kills bacteria quickly and people can start to see results within days, but it can cause dryness and redness.
Different products may contain different amounts of Benzoyl Peroxide in it: 2.5 percent, 5 percent and 10 percent are the strengths most common in topical skincare, though the more concentrated they are the harder they are to buy, especially over the counter. It should be noted that it can also bleach fabrics, so users should be careful when applying it.
Vitamin B3 (also known as niacinamid) works to reduce inflammation and redness as well as rejunvenate and even out skin tone.
Vitamin B3 is less harsh than AHAs as it does not tend to irritate or dry out the skin. However, used with salicylic acid, for example, it is great at lightening pigmentation, strengthening the elasticity of the skin and improving its overall appearance.
Similar to Vitamin B, Vitamin A (also known as retinol) has been proved to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Retinol works to remove excess oil and decrease the amount of oil the skin is producing so that pores become unclogged and pimples don't arise.
Used on its own or with other agents such as salicylic acid, sulfur is considered to be successful in treating dermalogical conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, and especially acne. Taken topically, sulfur helps to remove dead skin cells and excess oil as well as killing acne bacteria, so that pores become more clear and breakouts are less common.
We've rounded up the the best facial washes to tackle acne in the gallery below